photo of SOM student outdoors

School of Medicine student is taking a gap year before her fourth year to work in areas that intersect with medicine, including sustainability.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Office of Sustainability would like to recognize Kimia Abtahi, a rising fourth-year medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and Sustainability Fellow with the Office of Sustainability, as a Sustainability Champion! She is originally from Clarksville, Md., and attended the University of Maryland, College Park for her undergrad, majoring in physiology and neurobiology.

Abtahi’s interest in sustainability stems from her love of the outdoors. “That’s where I feel the most at peace. It lets me leave the hustle and bustle of life behind, slow down, and be present. So, if you name an activity and it’s outside in some forest, I’m in.”

What first sparked Abtahi to want to learn more about sustainability was hearing about climate change and seeing the effects first-hand. “I not only want to preserve the environment, which has been changing rapidly in my somewhat short life, for our generation but for our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren.” Abtahi also saw that within medicine, the environment can have significant impacts on the health of patients. “It only makes sense that we need to keep our planet healthy to keep ourselves healthy,” she says.

As a second-year medical student, Abtahi had a leadership role in UMSOM’s student chapter of MedChi, the state’s medical legislative advocacy group, and she also served as co-president of UMSOM’s chapter of the American Medical Student Association. In both of these leadership roles, she brought issues of environmental health and climate change to the forefront of the groups’ work. As a third-year medical student, Abtahi co-founded UMSOM’s chapter of Medical Students for a Sustainable Future and, with others on the executive board, wrote UMSOM's first Planetary Health Report Card, the first to be completed in the state of Maryland. The report card evaluates the school’s and campus’ commitment to planetary health by identifying strengths and areas for improvement in categories such as curriculum, research, and community outreach. 

Abtahi is taking a gap year, with one of her main goals being to work in, learn about, and make change in areas she cares about that intersect with medicine — one of which is sustainability.

“I have felt powerless in the midst of all of this terrifying news about how we are on this dangerous, exponential trajectory toward irreversibly harming our home unless we do something about it. I felt that I needed to be a part of that ‘do something’ in some way, and the best way to approach change you want to see on a large scale is to start in your local community.”

Abtahi had learned that the Office of Sustainability had recently been created at UMB and expressed interest in working with the office on some of their various projects as a Sustainability Fellow. In her few short weeks as a fellow with the Office of Sustainability, Abtahi has already worked to expand sustainability service-learning opportunities for UMSOM students and identified actions and initiatives to make UMB a more bicycle-friendly campus, among other projects.

When asked about one thing that fellow students, staff, and faculty at UMB can do to contribute to campus sustainability efforts, Abtahi recognizes how dismal things can seem in the world of climate change, which can lead to feelings of grief and complacency.

“I want to let you know that even though it may not feel like it sometimes, your individual efforts do matter! Because if you and one billion other people believe this, we can make a collective change. You are also serving as a role model for others. So, every bit counts and is appreciated! It can be simple things, such as bringing a reusable water bottle to class/the office or recycling (pay attention to the new signs coming across campus with details on what goes where). Start there, and see where it takes you with an open mind!”

Do you have a UMB Sustainability Champion you would like to nominate to be featured? Please fill out this form. Self-nominations are welcome.

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